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Climate and Environment

Santiago Saez Moreno
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piqer: Santiago Saez Moreno
Tuesday, 19 September 2017

What Science Budget Is Worth (Spoiler: Lives)

It's hurricane season. We have already beaten quite a few records: Harvey in Texas and Louisiana, and Irma along the Antilles and Cuba's North Coast, have sown devastation without precedents. As I write this, Puerto Ricans are bracing up for the potentially catastrophic landfall of Maria.

I happened to be in Cuba last week, when Irma brushed the island. I noticed the population's reverence towards head meteorologist José Rubiera. "He's the best. He would even tell Fidel what's what," said the owner of a house I was renting a room at.

For Cubans and other populations of the Caribbean, accurate forecasts mean the difference between life and death, and when I heard Rubiera, I understood the hype. He could really make people understand what was dangerous and what was not, while keeping calm and avoiding unnecessary alarm. Following different models (Cuban, European and American), he gave an accurate idea of how to save one's life.

As climate change warms the oceans, the old models are becoming outdated. Warmer waters mean better fuel for superstorms, so ocean and hurricane research are crucial to understanding the paths of these monsters. Millions of lives depend on it.

This article asks a crucial question: As we dive deeper into the effects of global warming, are we investing enough in understanding how they affect hurricane behaviour?

Global warming is changing the very structure of the ocean, including the way different temperature layers mix. That mixing is also important to the evolution of hurricanes.

The US is cutting down on its science research budget, which will reduce the chances to learn key information on these events. European models are, indeed, the best right now, but there's still a lot to do.

This article is, as usual for ICN, really well researched and sourced. It provides an excellent argument against those who defend cutting back on space exploration and exploratory science budgets.

There are life-threatening forces that can only be averted by knowledge. Here are some.

What Science Budget Is Worth (Spoiler: Lives)
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Comments 4
  1. christoph weigel
    christoph weigel · 11 months ago

    good piq! thanks for that, santi. cheers to josé rubiera, too.

    1. Santiago Saez Moreno
      Santiago Saez Moreno · 11 months ago

      Thanks Christoph! I didn't have space for the whole story, but it was pretty interesting in itself. Rubiera was abroad when the first news that Irma could go towards Cuba started flowing. People immediately started complaining that Rubiera was not delivering the info. Where is Rubiera? He had to be called back to the island urgently!!

      However, it was pretty disturbing to see Cuba is not as prepared as it used to be. It's my second hurricane in the country (after Ike in 2008) and I felt that people were way more aware of the risks then than now.

      It's almost as if this time they were just expecting that Irma would turn away (as initial forecasts said) and didn't prepare enough. People didn't collect as much food or made sure draining pipes were clean. Deaths could have been prevented, and it could have been much worse if the eye would have gotten closer to Havana.

      Hurricanes are serious stuff and even a small chance should be met with worst-case scenario preparation.

    2. christoph weigel
      christoph weigel · 11 months ago

      @Santiago Saez Moreno muchisimas grácias por estos detailles, santi! i think it would be well worth an extra story: your impressions about the reactions of people to upcoming danger, their dependence on reliable information etcetera. why not contacting 'perspective daily' for that? they might be interested in such a story. that they publish in german shouldn't be a problem – as manu chao said: we're en ruta babilon.

    3. Santiago Saez Moreno
      Santiago Saez Moreno · 11 months ago

      @christoph weigel Unfortunately, I really can't base my experience in anything else than my own subjective feelings. I think it wouldn't be fair to write something like that without further investigation. Thanks nonetheless!!